Animals on the Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica
Costa Rica is home to 6 species of wildcats. Due to poaching and habitat loss all wild cats are severly endangered and mainly live in nature reserves or in remote and mountainous areas. On the Nicoya Peninsula the three small species of wild cats can be found: margay cats, ocelots and jaguarundis, while pumas and jaguars are almost extinct.
The largest carnivore in Central America is the Jaguar (Panthera Onca) which can grow to over 2 meters length. The magnificent feline which adorns so many advertisements about Costa Rica is actually very rare and its population continues to decline dramatically.
The elusive Black Panthers are almost extinct in Costa Rica.
The Puma or Mountain Lion ranks second in size of the wild cats in Costa Rica. Its fur is uniform brown and unspotted. The puma is a panamerican species, able to live in extremely varied habitats from Canada to Chile and Argentina.
With one meter in length, the Ocelot (Manigordo) is the largest representative of the small wild cats. The ocelot lives and hides on the ground and rarely climbs trees. He is found in primary and secondary growth dry forests and hunts at night. His diet consists of birds, monkeys rats and other small mammals or reptiles.
The Margay Cat (Caucel) is smaller than the ocelot and spends most of his life on trees. It is the most accomplished climber of these wild cats because its ankle joints permit to rotate its foot through 180 degrees and it moves around treetops with the ease of a squirrel.
The Jaguarundi (León Breñero) is unspotted and with its long
sleek body, short legs and small head it looks like a cross between a cat and a weasel.
The Jaguarundi hunts day and night and is also an excellent swimmer. It is the wild cat which is best adapted
to human changes to its habitat.
Jaguarundis are often blamed for hunting chickens but in most cases the culprit is a tayra (tolomuco), a member of the weasel family which from far ressembles to the jaguarundi.
The smallest wild cat in Costa Rica is the rare Tigrillo (Oncilla) which doesn't grow bigger than a house cat. The tigrillo is solitary and strictly arborical. The tigrillo doesn't live on the Nicoya Peninsula but on higher elevations of the Costa Rican cloud forests in altitudues up to 3200 m.
Seeing wild cats in Costa Rica:
You are very unlikely to see wild cats in the jungle. They hide well, are mostly nocturnal, and avoid encounters with humans which they can smell from very far away.
In Costa Rica you can see wild cats in the Simon Bolivar Zoo in San José where they are kept in small concrete cages.
A far better place for the wild cats is Las Pumas in Guanacaste, an animal rescue center whose primary goal is to release the animals into wilderness after having ensured that they can survive on their own. The public zone, which you are allowed to visit, hosts animals which wouldn't be able to survive in the wild. At Las Pumas you can see jaguars, pumas, ocelots, margay cats, jaguarundis amongst other animals.
Las Pumas is conveniently located on the Interamericana, 4.5 km past Cañas on the way to Liberia. Admission is $7 and donations are welcome.